I want to applaud your recent editorial titled “Our Views: Early Childhood Education is an Easy Sell.”
At first glance, it may seem that our state has already met the needs of our young children. Right now, Louisiana is ranked 8th in the nation for our accountability system for pre-K, Head Start and child care programs. After all, we do serve 93% of our at-risk four year olds through publicly funded, full-day, quality pre-K programs. So why do we need more investment in early childhood education?
Over the past decade, we have funded our four year olds at the cost of our infants and toddlers under age four. Our state has significantly cut funding for early care and education resulting in many children under age four without a quality, affordable option for early education. Louisiana serves less than 7 percent of our at-risk children two and under in quality child care and less than 33 percent of our at-risk three year olds.
Furthermore, we could not have achieved our successes for four year olds without significant long-term investment and political will. In 2012, Act 3 was passed mandating sweeping reforms to early care and education in Louisiana and unified our fragmented early childhood system. Notably, Act 3 was an unfunded mandate; its success was fueled several funding sources paired with commitment from policymakers at the local and state levels.
We need to repeat our successes to close the early childhood education gap for children under age four in our state. This means ensuring that our policymakers prioritize investing $86 million in annual funding over the next decade, as recommended by the Early Childhood Care and Education Commission so that children under four can access early education programs. The future of early childhood care and education in Louisiana looks very promising. We have bipartisan political support and a diverse statewide coalition of businesses, Chambers, community and advocacy organizations, parents, and educators, known as Ready Louisiana, behind this critical investment. Voters support early childhood education as a priority. So policymakers, we need you to follow through on this for the sake of our state’s well-being; this is an opportunity we can’t afford to waste.
immediate past board president, Louisiana Policy Institute for Children